THE GENIUS OF WILBUR & ORVILLE WRIGHT - EARLY AIRCRAFT

AND GRANDAD STARTS TO BUILD A WRIGHT MODEL B REPLICA

When I was a youngster, age 15 and 16, I was a Junior Counselor at a summer camp near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers made the very first powered aircraft flight in the history of mankind. My job was to clean the stables, feed the horses, curry comb them and exercise the half dozen horses every morning. It took about three hours every morning and except for the exercising was a rather horse shit job. I exercised each one by galloping down the sandy beach along Pamlico Sound to the Lost Colony Fort about a mile away.....real fun.

Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers made the first powered aircraft flight was just a short drive away. The gorgeous Wright Brothers Memorial Monument erected by the U.S. Park Service in 1935 on top of Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk was an inspiring sight to a youngster who was totally enamoured with aviation. I used to climb to the top of the monument and launch balsa wood gliders. When the wind was right they would catch the ridge lift coming up the sand dune and sometimes climb and disappear out of sight.

The monument was shaped like a single vertical wing. A front view of the monument is shown above. It was a beautiful and inspiring sight. After visiting the monument we would all go down to Kitty Hawk's gorgeous sand beach, have lunch and surf/swim in the ocean all afternoon. My favorite picture of the Wright Brother's very first flight on a cold December morning in 1903 is illustrated below.

I think Wilbur was the pilot and Orville can been seen on the far right side. The Wright brothers' genius encompassed building their own wind tunnel for testing airfoils, building their own gasoline engine to drive it, and then building this apparition and transporting it to Kitty Hawk. This in itself is an unblievable feat, but true. The first powered airplane in flight with Wilbur at the controls is shown below. It is copy from a museum display.

Professor Langley, who was then the Director of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC was the Wright brothers' nemesis for many years. This lying son of a bitch fought the Wright Brothers' powered airplane patent for many years and finally, deservedly, lost the many court battles. The fight was so bitter that the Smithsonian Museum refused to display the original Wright aircraft until it was shipped to them in the 1930's from the London Science Museum in England. This is typical Washington bureaucrat hypocrisy. A good photo of the Wright brothers on their many trips to Washington, DC where they were trying to interest the U.S. Army in trying out their aircraft follows.

Circa 1908/1909 the Wright brothers landed an Army contract to teach a few Army officers how to fly. The first Army aviator was Lieutenant Selfridge who was to be the first Army pilot killed in an aircraft accident. Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan was named after him. Flying these pre-1912 aircraft that were canard designed, the rudders and elevator forward of the wing and center of gravity, was about as easy as throwing a dart backwards. It required great skill to say the least as they were inherently unstable. To compound the difficulty, the aircraft was banked by warping the wing as the aileron had not yet been invented. Wilbur Wright and Lieutenant Selfridge are depicted in the graphic below during a 1909 flight instruction session.

By 1911/1912 the Wright brothers' Model B aircraft with the stabilizers, rudders and elevator behind the wing/center of gravity, had been adopted. Glenn Curtiss' invention of the aileron rather than wing warping was also used. This was an aircraft that the Army could successfully use for scouting, dropping hand grenades and could even be equipped with a machine gun. An early photo of the 1912 Model B Wright aircraft follows.

This photograph is difficult to interpret. A small sketch of the 1912 Model B Wright aircraft with all the important control surfaces easier to see is displayed below.

During the 1980s a dedicated group in Dayton, Ohio built a flyable 1912 Model B replica. They fly it regularly at a number of airshows and even take a passenger along on demo rides for only $150. a throw. It is exhibited at their local Dayton Wright Brothers Museum. This is a downright lousy photo of the aircraft outside of their museum/hangar in Dayton. There is a better photo on the Internet that I can no longer find. It is NOT keyed into any of the search engines. If you can find it, kindly send me an e-mail with its URL and I'll use it here.

Back in 1967 I decided to build a flyable 27 foot wing span replica of the 1912 Wright Model B Flyer. It is a NOT too long happy/sad story.

GRANDAD STARTS BUILDING A 1912 WRIGHT MODEL B FLYABLE REPLICA:
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My copy of the super aircraft textbook "Jane's All the World's Aircraft" had detailed three views to scale of the Wright brother's 1912 Model B. Since this was the first Wright aircraft that had the rudders and elevator to the rear of the wing, and center of gravity/lift, it appeared to be the ideal antique aircraft for a fun home building project. It should have inherent stability built right into it. By using a three quarters scale of the original and making it a single seater rather than two seater the project was significantly simplified. Also, I had no intention of using the 1912 airfoil the Wright brothers used for the wings, but rather a higher lift, modified, Clark Y airfoil that was pretty much a standard for light planes. The airfoil I used is illustrated below.

I had been building model airplanes from age five, solid models, from age eight rubberband powered balsa flying models and from age 12 miniature model airplane gas engine powered models. My first model engine was a .29 cubic inch displacement Baby Brownie engine. It had a real miniature spark plug, breaker points for the miniature spark coil and capacitor, and a miniature gas tank behind it to hold the gas and oil fuel that two cycle engines required. Anyone that could make THAT engine run by flipping the little nine inch propellor could solve complex differential equations without paper and pencil. It took me at least a month to figure out ALL the conditions required to make that little beast GO. Eventually I built a five foot wingspan model of a high wing 1929 Pietenpol Air Camper and flew it successfully. It had a tiny pneumatic actuated timer that you pulled out just before releasing the model. The timer opened the ignition circuit to the coil primary after whatever number of seconds you had set it, therefore cutting off the engine. Most of my engine runs were for 45 seconds or less after hand launching the model.


My Wright Model B replica's wing design was almost idendical to a traditional model airplane's. The wing spars and stringers were aircraft grade spruce that I purchased in 15 foot lengths from an aircraft lumber specialty supplier. The wing ribs were five ply marine grade 1/4 inch plywood that I cut out with my homemade bandsaw. The cut out circles in each rib were cut with my drill press and a collection of sharp circle cutters. The spruce trailing edges of the wing were beveled using our local lumber yard's planer. Each rib was resorcinol glued into a one inch notch in the trailing edge plus spruce filets glued on each side of each rib to the trailing edge. You can see the filets in the above graphic if you look closely. The wings also had a 3/4 inch square piece by about eight inches of spruce glued on each side of each rib to the spar where it passes through the rib.

The preceding graphic above displays one half of one wing assembled and ready for covering. The bracing wires are not shown. The aluminum leading edge cover in yellow was formed at a large local sheet metal shop that had a monster metal roller machine. I gave them two ribs to show them the shape I wanted and sonofagun they created four 15 length covers that fit perfectly. The sheet aluminum leading edge was fastened to the wing's spruce stringers with one inch long small oval head screws every three inches. The oval wing tips were 1/2 inch seven ply marine plywood fastened with filets and resorcinol glue. Though it may not appear to be a strong wing, it was one tough baby that could take about 4 G's when installed with all the struts and guy wires.

The Wright B replica steel frames, two sides, were oxy-acetylene welded. The steel tubes were high strength chrome-moly thin wall steel tubing 1 1/2 inches in diameter. If I had had a heliarc welder, welding them would have been a lot easier, but practice makes perfect and after three or four joints were welded it was not all that difficult. I welded all of the frames top side joints. Then turned the frame over and welded the other side's joints and lastly the top and bottom of each joint with the frame braced vertically. I had built a jig to hold each side of the frame in place while it was being welded.

After the wings were finished except for covering and the basic airframe welding was done I purchased a used Crosley automobile 25 horsepower engine and rebuilt it. Had the crankshaft ground and installed new bearings, cleaned up the valve seats and installed new valves, and lastly installed new piston rings. It is illustrated below and has the two chain drive sprockets on its output shaft.

The Crosley Automobile Company built and sold tens of thousands of little mini-cars after World War II. The engine design was one of the most advanced 4 cylinder overhead cam engines of its time. Originally the engine used a welded sheet metal block, but later they switched to a cast iron block which was the one I had. It had the astoundingly excellent power to weight ratio of about 3 1/2 to one without accessories installed; i.e., starter, generator, etc. I had its flywheel and power train dynamically balanced and built a testbed in my workshop for breaking it in. At 3000 RPM on my electric tachometer one could set a full tea cup on its flat oil filling cap on the top of the valve cover and not spill a drop!

BAD NEWS:
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The summer of 1970 I was promoted from being the President of International Telephone & Telegraph's ITT Navigator System Division in nearby Rockville, Maryland to ITT World Headquarters in New York City where I rented an apartment only two blocks from ITT at 320 Park Avenue. My wife and children stayed at our home in Northern Viriginia and I commuted to New York City from nearby Dulles Airport. My little glider towplane landing strip in front of my home was EXACTLY on the five mile edge of the Dulles Airport control zone. My new job as Worldwide Product Line Executive for Commercial Avionics and Marine Electronics gave me the responsibility of overseeing 13 ITT companies in the U.S. and Europe. I had to spend the last week of every month in Europe visiting my ITT firms from Norway to Iran. The other Fridays I flew from New York City's nearby Newark, New Jersey airport back home to Dulles Airport in Virginia at 5:15 pm. Needless to say, I no longer had the leisure time to work on the Wright Model B.

I unsuccessfully tried to sell the partially finished Model B replica. NO SALE. We gave my beautiful Model B wings a Vikings funeral in a large bonfire. I sold the Crosley engine to a catbird who was building a mini-hydroplane whose class used souped up little Crosley engines so at least the engine had a happy life thereafter. Moral: do not bite off more than you can chew!

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